Music is a form of art and expression -- most people would not argue that point. The lyrics to a song can tell a powerful story, or paint a picture from a new point of view. Given that sometimes the story or feelings expressed in a song can be based in reality, should those words be held against their author if they suggest violence? A New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in August suggested that lyrics are not appropriate evidence in a trial. However, in a case earlier this month, a man spent 8 days in jail for posting lyrics to a metal song—one that he didn’t even write himself—on Facebook.
31-year-old James Evans posted the following quote from a song written by the metal band Exodus: "Student bodies lying dead in the halls, a blood splattered treatise of hate / Class dismissed is my hypothesis, gun fire ends in debate." The warrant for Evans' arrest stated that "he threatened to kill students and/or staff at school." Essentially, without investigating the root of these words, police determined that they suggested a threat of school violence.
When it comes to social media monitoring, one has to wonder where the line ought to be drawn between protection and invasion. Indeed, if the man simply enjoyed listening to the song (which Exodus has since commented was meant to be written from the perspective of a madman and “in no way endorses that kind of behavior), where is the threat to society? In an age where one can so easy identify a piece of text by typing it into Google, it seems extreme that Evans spent eight days in jail for regurgitating someone else’s words, originally written with the purpose of expression.
Evans’ case has been deferred for six months, during which time he will undergo a mental evaluation. If he indeed meant no harm after all, those eight days of prison may be the end of his undeserved sentencing. For everyone else, perhaps this will serve as a valuable warning: think before you post, because while you might know where those words are coming from, you can’t control perception.